Home » Advocacy Awards » 2024 Advocacy Awards » Robert W. Conn, PhD


The GORDON AND LLURA GUND LEADERSHIP AWARD honors volunteer leaders whose significant contributions have made an extraordinary impact on the level of advocacy for medical, public health or other health-related research in their communities or on the local, state, or national level.

Robert W. Conn is the Walter Zable Distinguished Professor and Dean of Engineering (Emeritus) at the University of California, San Diego. Dr. Conn has been a leader in academia, research, business, philanthropy, and national science and technology policy for more than fifty years. He is currently Distinguished Policy Fellow and Pacific Rim Fellow at UC San Diego’s School of Global Policy and Strategy.

From 2009 until his retirement in 2020, Dr. Conn was  President and CEO of The Kavli Foundation, a nonprofit based in Los Angeles with a mission to advance science for the benefit of humanity. While President, he played an early and catalytic role in enabling the US BRAIN Initiative in 2013. He is a co-founder in 2014 of the Science Philanthropy Alliance. Dr. Conn served as the first Dean of UC San Diego’s Jacobs School of Engineering from 1994 to 2002, where he guided the school to its rise as one of the top twelve engineering schools in the country. While Dean at UC San Diego, he helped found new departments, research centers, and institutes, and raised the School’s endowment, which today is the largest of any public engineering in the United States. In 1997-98, while chair of the UC Engineering Deans Council, he led the creation of the California Engineering Initiative, which increased the number of engineering students and faculty throughout the UC system by 30%.

As a leading researcher in fusion engineering and fusion energy systems, first at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, then at UCLA, and finally at UC San Diego, Dr. Conn pioneered the design of fusion energy systems, identifying the major physics and engineering challenges facing the development of practical fusion energy. He co-founded and served as the first director of Wisconsin’s Fusion Technology Institute and later established and led UCLA’s Institute of Plasma and Fusion Research.

Dr. Conn is a member of the National Academy of Engineering (elected in 1987) and a fellow of the American Physical Society and the American Nuclear Society. He is the recipient of numerous honors and awards including most recently the 2018 Roger Revelle Medal of UC San Diego and the 2020 Shokuman Award of the University of Tokyo.

Dr. Conn earned a BS in chemical engineering from the Pratt Institute and both a MS in mechanical engineering and a PhD in engineering science from the California Institute of Technology.